By: Andrew Freund
In 1996, the Emmy Award-winning documentary Paradise Lost exposed the many injustices in the 1993 “Satanic ritual” murder trial that convicted the West Memphis Three — Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley and Jason Baldwin. The documentary revealed the gross misconduct of police, prosecutors and judges in the case of three teenage boys who were wrongfully accused of a grisly triple murder of three 8-year-old boys.
In March 2000, Paradise Lost 2: New Revelations aired on HBO, showing even more evidence of how West Memphis police botched evidence, ignored the obvious primary suspect and did everything they could to target Damien Echols as the supposed ringleader of a “cult” whose members didn’t even know each other before the day of the killings.
Yet Echols now sits on Arkansas’ death row, waiting for his case to be heard by the state Supreme Court.
The case of the West Memphis Three is filled with injustices (see www.wm3.org for more details). Police extracted a false confession from Misskelley, a mentally handicapped boy who barely even knew Echols. Misskelley was polygraphed and interrogated by police for more than 12 hours with no access to his father or legal counsel. Yet police recorded only the final 20 minutes of the interrogation to capture the “confession.”
No physical evidence linked either Echols, Misskelley or Baldwin to the crime, and bite marks on one of the victims didn’t match any of the three. Plus, the obvious main suspect, the stepfather of one of the victims, presented documentary filmmakers with a knife containing a blood stain type of one of the victims!
Jessie and Jason are in prison for life, and Damien awaits execution on death row. Damien has a still unannounced court date this summer. An Internet support campaign has grown up around Damien’s case, but it will take more to win justice for the West Memphis Three.